Saturday, December 16, 2023

The Repair Queen

 On the first day of her winter break, my wife declared loudly to the neighborhood "I am the queen of car repair!" She's not sure if the neighbors walking by heard or not, but we're hopeful that they will forever think of our house as "the home of the queen of car repair."

Some days earlier, she had stopped by Auto Zone and asked for a headlight for a Prius. The guy looked kind of hesitant and asked if she wanted them to install it. No, she said, I can do it. He looked a bit dubious, and she explained that she's done it a couple times now over the years. His hesitancy turned into amazement and they commiserated a bit about how hard it is to change Prius bulbs. But, he indicated, the Prius isn't as bad a s aJeep. Still. He would have been happy to have her demonstrate her prowess right there in the parking lot, but she declined. She felt sure she could do it, but how quickly was another matter. 

So this morning, she went out and changed the bulb in record time. Not sure if they redesigned the Prius since the last time (this is the first time she's done it on our new-to-us Prius), or if she's just that good--the queen, in fact.

And for her next amazing trick? We had seen a dent in the front bumper. She boiled water and we poured it over the dent and--just before we ran out of water--the dent popped right out. Physics for the win! Long live the queen!

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Done With the Sickness

I came down with a bit of a sore throat yesterday and frankly, I'm not a fan. And yet, despite my feelings about being sick, I feel like I've spent the better part of the last few months under the weather.

Earlier this fall, I came down with something that seemed pretty minor. No real congestion to speak of, not even really a sore throat, just a bit of a tickle in the back of my throat. It was a minor annoyance, albeit an annoyance that seriously compromised my ability to do one of my hobbies--singing in a community choir. And here's the thing: minor as it was, it just kept going. Day after day, week after week. 

Finally, after 4 or 5 weeks I went to see the doctor, where I ended up paying like $700 out of pocket for them to tell me it wasn't COVID, either strain of the flu, or... pneumonia, I think? Basically, just a cold that won't go away. 

Around that time, it got slightly worse, and a complication arose. I coughed hard enough to either pull a muscle between my ribs or knock a rib out of alignment. And let me tell you, that was painful. Every time I sat up, laid down, rolled over, whatever--and, of course, any time I coughed--it hurt a lot. So even once the cough went away a month and a half after it started I still felt fairly bad because of this rib thing that also wouldn't go away. 

This is a sign of getting old, isn't it? 

I sure hope this sore throat doesn't stick around. We shall see. I am more than ready to be done with any and all forms of illness for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Mixed day in the kitchen

It’s not every day you get hot oil splashed on your face, but here we are. 

The closest we got to drama at lunch was my sick-at-home teen having her request for Panera denied. I had zero interest in paying for DoorDash or driving there, but I was able to surprise her with an alternative: chicken soup from a can and homemade biscuits. 

Although I love a good yeast bread, it’s good to have quicker alternatives in your recipe box. The biscuits were a big hit, not to mention cheap and easy. 

As dinner came around, I was short on ideas but cane up with: Breakfast For Dinner: Fancy Edition. The fancy part being crepes. 

I cooked bacon in the oven. Baked bacon has been a go-to for me any time I need to make bacon for a crowd. It’s hands off and relatively hard to mess up (just don’t let it go too long!). 

As I was finishing up the crepes, I caught a whiff of burning bacon. It wasn’t burnt, but it was done. I grabbed an oven mitt, but as I pulled it out the grease popped and splattered. “My eyes!” I thought as pain exploded on my face, shutting them tightly and jerking back. 

In the end I was okay, but have a pretty good dime-sized burn on my forehead right above and between my eyes, plus some smaller burns on my face and one hand. And there was a mess of bacon grease on our floor too. I’ve never had anything like that happen in all the years I’ve cooked bacon in the oven or on the stove. 

But the crepes were great, so there’s that. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Life-changing food

I'm on my college class reunion committee, and the alumni office had a virtual luncheon today for class agents. The icebreaker was your favorite food from the dining hall while you were a student.

Now, I'm not sure if it's my favorite exactly, but there was some dining hall food that changed my life.

I came to college as a provincial, leaving my small town for, well, another small town, but one that hosted an elite academic institution and the cosmopolitan community that implies. And I swear that, to the best of my knowledge, the only bread available in my hometown was Wonder Bread and the equivalent "whole wheat" bread. We did not have a bakery (except for donuts). 

Our college, however, did (or, it was rumored, they got their bread from the local Amish). In any case, every day in our dining hall featured an array of freshly baked breads for the taking. If I gained 10 pounds my freshman year--and I did--it was surely all bread weight. 

Because this bread was a revelation. That other stuff was fine for sandwiches, but this was bread fit for the holiest of communions. Yes please, I will always have seconds.

But alas, all good things must come to an end, and when I returned home from college that first summer, I returned to a desolate wasteland (in terms of bakeries--it wasn't that bad otherwise). 

And so I taught myself how to bake bread, first from the Betty Crocker Cookbook (my mother's kitchen Bible), and then from other cookbooks and individual recipes. 

What's more, this kicked off an interest in the culinary arts more broadly. Talking about baking with actual adults earned me recommendations for cookbooks like The Moosewood series, The Joy of Cooking, and Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. And I tried my hand at a little of everything. 

Cooking, in turn, broadened my tastes, and I went from an extremely picky kid to an adventurous adult. All of which, it could be said, I owe to the fresh bread in my college dining hall.  

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Walking and Talking

 Two weeks in a row makes a tradition, right? 

Two Sundays now, my oldest and I have taken a morning walk to our local Starbucks, justified in no small part by the "Win Starbucks for a Year" promotion and in part by a couple opportunities for bonus stars. As much as anything, though, the motivation is to get in some morning steps and spend time with my teen.

Mission accomplished on both fronts. 

Starbucks is 1.4 miles from our house, so that was almost 3 miles right there. And she's always talkative when we're heading to Starbucks. It's like anticipation is almost as strong as caffeine. 

We talked about the concert she sang in last night, which was just amazingly good. She sings with the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Chorus, and I'm just continually blown away by what an experience she's getting. Their performance last night was closer in its repertoire and sound to a college choir than to a high school ensemble. 

And we talked about things going on with one of her siblings, and about her recent class trip to Columbus, where she loved COSI (Center of Science and Industry) and the chance to see the Ohio State main campus up close. We talked about next year, when she may be going off to boarding school. 

At home, it can be tough to get time on my teen's busy schedule, so if the cost of admission is over-priced coffee and sugary drinks, so be it. 

Saturday, December 9, 2023

Long Goodbye

I haven’t talked about it much here or on social media, but my mother has been suffering from dementia for at least four years now—four noticeable years, anyway, but in retrospect you start to wonder about the state of her mind even earlier, and certain things appear in a different light. This fall, we brought her closer as we moved her into memory care—a 20-minute drive rather than an hour and a half. Which makes it possible to see her much more often. 

The place where she lives had a holiday dinner earlier this week and it was nice to share a meal with her. 

Having her close is a double-edged sword: we can visit more often, but with work and school and all the related commitments, I still can’t get there as often as I feel like I should. It’s almost worse, because when it’s prohibitively difficult to visit, well, you just can’t visit that often. But now? Now that she’s not living in the town where she spent the past half century, I know that no one will come to visit her except me, and I can’t seem to get there often enough. 

We traveled to be with my wife’s family over Thanksgiving, which made it a week and a half between visits, and I felt terrible about it. Part of me expected, and dreaded, what Mom would say when I did visit her, what kind of guilt trip it might be. That is, after all, kind of her MO. 

But she didn’t seem particularly aware of how long had passed. Which was a relief, but also a painful reminder of how much she has lost already. The Mom I grew up with would have been acutely aware down to the hour of how long it had been and never would have let that slide. 

I’ve heard this called “the long goodbye.” And I try to recognize it for the blessing it can be. I know people who have lost parents or spouses suddenly, and that is so devastating. Mom’s death, when it comes, will not be that. I have had years already to come to terms with the loss, because the loss has been happening little by little, day by day. My dad’s death was similar in its own way: not dementia precisely, because his loss of mind and self came from a tumor and damage from surgery, but it was also the kind of long goodbye that meant we were ready, relieved, when his suffering and ours finally ended. The grief we felt—of course there was still grief—was simply the crest of the final wave of many that was crashing against our shore. 

And yet. Earlier this fall, Mom went to the hospital with a fall. It turned out she had COVID and pneumonia. Realistically, any of the three things could have killed her. And driving to the hospital, sitting with her, I realized that while I could make peace with it, while she was going, she wasn’t entirely gone, and I’m not ready for goodbye either. 

And so, each visit, each event like this week's, are at once difficult reminders of loss and precious moments before the real goodbye.